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Obama Volunteers Describe Encounters With Racism

From the Washington Post (via Alex Koppelman):

For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

Merida writes about several incidents, like one in Kokomo, Ind., where on primary day, "a group of black high school students were holding up Obama signs along U.S. 31, a major thoroughfare. As drivers cruised by, a number of them rolled down their windows and yelled out a common racial slur for African Americans." He also mentions voters who've said they wouldn't vote for Obama because of his race, and an incident in Vincennes, Ind., in which an Obama campaign office was vandalized: "A large plate-glass window was smashed, an American flag stolen. Other windows were spray-painted with references to Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other political messages: 'Hamas votes BHO' and 'We don't cling to guns or religion. Goddamn Wright.'"

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Does anyone stil think a national discussion on race might not be useful?Of course, I think we also need that kind of discussion in Holy Mother here too.

A curiosity that seems to go unmentioned is the matter of "super-delegates". Are these not just a new [but not improved] version of the old party bosses? No matter how you or I vote, it will be the super-delegates who will decide. I don't say I am against it. The Irishman in me has a lingering fondness for the bosses. They did protect their own. I have forgotten the name of the [you should pardon the expression - Liberal] columnist who wrote against his grain, that if his son had been arrested on a bum drug charge in Mexico - who would he call for help? Alfonse D'Amato.

I'm glad we Catholics aren't racist. Of course, those busing riots in "Southie" and the Marquette Park area of Chicago so many years ago (all good Catholic 'hoods) were an abberation .... right? Oh, yes. On the other hand, I guess attitudes towards other races are a matter of prudential judgement, are they not?

Well, whatever you can say about racists in West Virginia or Kentucky, the odds are pretty high that they are not Catholic. Appalachia = Scots Irish, with its distinctive music derived from the British Isles, and an insularity and traditionalism that is probably now foreign to most of the rest of America, excepting the Amish. There are some really good documentaries on this region. Frontline had a terrific documentary called Country Boys: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/countryboys/ And the website has a lot of interesting interviews and the stories of these two young boys are unforgettable.There is a film called Harlan County, USA, by Barbara Koppel that is truly a classic about unionization in a Kentucky mining town. And finally, Rory Kennedy did a documentary called American Hollow, about a multi-generational Kentucky family.What KY and WV have in common is an economy that has traditionally focused investment on extracting natural resources rather than on the people who extract them. This is what separates Appalachia from, say, North or South Dakota, which are equally rural. On the other hand, if you are ever in a car with an idiot friend who destroys a wheel while driving too fast and trying to avoid going over the side of a mountain, there are not many places where two brothers in a truck will stop on their way home and bail you out at 1:00 am and spend the rest of the night fixing your car with spare parts gleaned from junkers in the backyard, while their mother gets up early to make you a seriously wonderful breakfast. So, you know, it's good and bad.

This is disappointing.Despite the great step forward this year in the possibility of electing an African American or female president for our country, this primary season has also revealed numerous dark shadows still present in our society in the form of racism and misogyny.However, I must say that with all the coverage of racism from the press (which is a good thing), it'd be nice if they also did a little reporting on misogyny, especially since of the two, that's the one that's clearly present even in the MSM. In this regard, Marie Coco has a great article just out today over at Real Clear Politics:"Clinton Campaign Brought Sexism Out of Hiding"http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/05/clinton_campaign_broug...

If Bob Imbelli can get dressed down for his Obama thread, why does Eduardo Penalver get a bye with a piece like this which imitates his ridicule (by omission) of Hillary in similar posts of his? Certainly, this is terrible racial behavior against Obama. But very few here get what Marie Coco describes in the article cited by Chris. It certainly got a tone deaf response from this blog, no matter how one slices it. "There are many reasons why Clinton is losing the nomination contest, some having to do with her strategic mistakes, others with the groundswell for "change." But for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture."

Bill, I don't know why you think that "very few here get" how misogyny has played a role in this campaign. It has been noted several times on the blog. What very few people accept is the way in which you tend to characterize a lack of support for Clinton as evidence of misogyny. There is simply no comparison between the Luttwak op-ed, which never should have been printed, and this news story--not even "by omission." Chris, you and I have not been paying attention to the same media, apparently, because the list of offenses cited by Cocco have been noted many times in many places. (Although I am grateful she compiled them.) I'm also confused by your statement, "especially since of the two, thats the one thats clearly present even in the MSM." I'd rather not go down the path of Which -Ism Is Worse? Gets us nowhere. But just out of curiosity, how did you find our little corner of the blogosphere?

Grant, thanks for asking about how I found my way here. Honestly, I've been around the site on and off for a long time (more so with the magazine than with the blog) -- in the midst of the conservative Catholic culture that seems to largely surround me, I really appreciate the more engaging and critical (yet still sincere and faith seeking) essays that tend to come from Commonweal. I'm not sure how regular my comments will be, but I will be around.In response to your points about my comments, I didn't mean to suggest that no one in the media has noted the sexism. I apologize. By saying misogyny is "the one that's clearly present even in the MSM", I simply meant to suggest that of the two, I think in general misogyny is far more tolerated in the media than racism is. Do you not think that racism has gotten much more recognition (as as a bad thing of course) and attention than sexism has during this primary season?As for which saying which -ism is worse, I've heard this point before, that this kind of talk gets us nowhere, but I think that's assuming a lot. Good social science and public policy research ought to desire to determine the biggest problems in a society, right? The danger that I think you're getting at is when one uses the claim of being the worse as reason to ignore or downplay one or more other social problems. But that does not need to happen, not in policy nor in discussion, and it's certainly not what I intended by my comments. Personally, I don't see any reason why there can't be well-intentioned and fruitful discussion comparing the harmful effects of different "-isms". Doesn't that sound okay?By the way, since I haven't been following this blog consistently throughout the elections, I wasn't aware of the posts that have dealt with political misogyny in the past. Is there any way you can link to those for me? If it's too hard to do, that's okay, but I was just curious as to what you had covered before.

In the interests of being conciliatory, let me start by agreeing with you. The MSM and, generally, society as a whole tolerates demeaning and degrading conduct towards women that would be found utterly unacceptable, for the most apart, if it were racially motivated. People even on this usually oh so civil board defend the use of the word bitch but no one here has ever defended the use of its racially charged counterpart. The fact that sexism can be more overt does not make it more of a social problem. Indeed, some social scientists would argue that its very oppenness makes it less of a social problem because it can be called out directly for what it is. Please read the following book on how damaging the nouveau "hiddenness" of racism can be:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/books/review/Patterson-t.html?_r=1&ore... would characterize the differences between racism and sexism, thus, understanding that in some cases discriminatory behavior might be more or less overlapping:Sexism is a verticial stratification that takes place within a group, which has sometimes the purpose and certainly the effect of demeaning or discouraging female traits, achievement and autonomy. Racism is the vertical stratification that takes place across groups that allocates respect and resources according to membership within a particular group. In the United States of America, opportunities, whether tangible (education, access to capital even if only in the form of home equity) or intangible (social networking) are far more likely to be a function of racial classification. Read this for a succinct primer: http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/03/wheres-the-grat.ht...'s not to say that sexual inequality doesn't exist, simply that even white women benefit from their inclusion within a white social structure in terms of access to education and other resources. Which is one reason of many why Clinton's statements on "white voters" is so jarring. Read this for more: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080519/betsyreedNote, also, how Clinton's supporters themselves have traded in gendered politics, for instance, by lauding Clinton for her macho traits (testicular fortitude, extra cojones, etc.), which some of us find to be VERY demeaning to women. And Clinton herself has tried to prove that she is as "tough as a man" by, IMO, voting for the AUMF and refusing to back down, and more recently cavalierly threatening the annihilation of an entire country, in which, I assure you, lots of women are living. She's okay because she's one of the boys. That doesn't sound like a radical change to me, and I worry a lot about how this need to prove toughness at all costs would play out in terms of governance.If the only way a woman can become president of the U.S. right now is to authorize or threaten war, then my bottom line is that a woman president is unlikely to be good for women generally, even if it rewards that single woman specifically.

Grant, my point is that every time Eduardo has focused on Hillary, he ridiculed her or portrayed others ridiculing her. This post shows his awareness of one issue while apparently blind to the other. Clearly, he (omission) has been absent on the misogyny issue. Barbara, while I agree with many of your points and appreciate your researching it, I hold that you too, and others here, have a double standard in this campaign. While the vote of AUMF and the comment on Iraq is repeated ad nauseum, you all are bending over backward to explain Barack's behavior on Wright and his ties to shady characters in Chicago. That some white people will not vote for Barack is a fact of political note. Hillary did not say it was right. When Barack says "Hillary has negatives" it is just a dressed up way of saying she is female. No one has said a word here about Pam Marten's article about Barack's ties to Wall Street, agent of change that he proclaims to be.

Bob Nunz wonders whether anyone is opposed to a "national discussion on race" ... but what would this discussion involve? And how would/could we keep it from devolving into a blame-game or white-guilt/white privilige dialogue (which only a handful of people would bother listening to)?The fact is that most white people can go through days, weeks, months of their lives without ever even thinking about their race--whereas many African-Americans (and possibly other races?) have argued that they must contend with such issues every minute of every day ... but how do you bring in the majority of the population for what--historically, at least--has been perceived as a discussion of their sins, crime,s failings, etc.? There's no point in just preaching to ... an all-black choir.

I'm not the only one who noticed the martial posturing:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-ducat/revenge-of-the-wimp-facto_b_...

I'm confused - I thought the thread was about racism against blacks. There's also (as I can tell from experience here in NM,) racism against Latino and Native americans. I question Mr, Reid's premise that most whie Americans go along never thinking about raceDuring my work days in the high;y multicultural New York justice system ,isues of race and gender, bith mysogyny and homophobia, arose with lots of frequency and folks telling you on the QT how they weren't prejudiced, but...Race and gender had to become isues in this campaign, given our hostry (and pace the few here who stubbornly refuse to beleive there was a "southern strategy".)Seems like the United Church will kick off its conversation on racism this weekend - might be interesting.

Bob Nunz:My statement was based on what African-Americans themselves have said--that white people rarely have to think about themselves as "white" whereas blacks are constantly reminded of their race ... also, I would suggest that your experience ("During my work days in the high;y multicultural New York justice system ,isues of race and gender, bith mysogyny and homophobia, arose with lots of frequency and folks telling you on the QT how they werent prejudiced, but") is not a common one for most whites. I have often heard of studies that show that many people--especially middle-aged and older--will self-segregate themselves by race at work, at church, in many of their recreational activites, etc. (whether deliberately or not) ...but again: I am curious about WHAT this discussion of race would cover? What would its topics be? What--if anything--woul;d be taboo? Because from my experience the closest thing to a dsicussion of race most people have is the mandatory diversity training they get at work which tends to veer heavily toward either somewthing so bland as to be useless or else it's focused on supposed "white privilege," white dominance, etc. and thus turns off the majority of its participants.

"To succeed in politics, you have to deal with ugly facts sometimes. Here's one ugly fact: Some voters won't vote for a black man. Here's another: Some of the same voters won't vote for a woman. It's foolish to think you can advance the rights of one group by inflaming prejudices against another. The best way to fight racism or sexism is to fight all prejudice."

I hate protracted arguments (part2) but...1) I suggest it migh tbe useful t owatch the United Church conversation about race t osee how it goes along and what its construct is.2)I agree with the awfulness of a lot of siversity training in some job settings - lawyer constructs of political correctednes3)Here in multicultural New Mexico, lots of division and racism across all line among Anglos, Latinos and Native Americans And also many folks who try to get some of it over with though immigration issues as well as tribal land/water and energy development disputers raise hackles more. Small example: every year our Senior Center has had a Cinco de Mayo Pot Luck - not this year! Whites may not talk much (openly) about it but the steering cmmitee was told by some dear users in no uncertain terms that no paricipation if that title was used. Small but gross stupidities - often multiplied.4)In this election year, the issue of racism and blacks (as well as mysogyny) are quite real.Hence the Obama speech on race and the whole Rev. Wrigh tfoofaraw we've beaten into the ground.5) So the incidents in Indiana, the discussion of white vote, black vore, Catholic vote, women's vote not only has reality and significance but underscores we're still not at the prideful point where we'll mainly talk about issues.

The Cinco de Mayo party poopers should read a littloe history. Americans have every reason to celebrate Cinco de Mayo because we supported the battle it commemorates--the French under Napoleon III had invaded Mexico ... Abraham Lincoln would have loved to have done something about this clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine but was a bit preoccupied with the Civil War .. so instead he clandestinely had weapons smuggled across the border to aid the Mexicans (weaposn that might even have been used at the actual battle on the 5th of May). So if it's good enough for Lincoln ...

The whole concept of a "national conversation" seems like an oxymoron. Individuals and small groups have conversations, and in private, individuals might be willing to let down their guard and expose themselves to critique or honest feedback necessary to make progress or resolve misunderstandings. But make that conversation public, and the possibility of losing face and being ridiculed is too great. Which is why "open" discussions among members of opposing groups rarely do anything except entrench their positions. Dare I say that it's almost Clintonesque, this idea that a private life can be effectively lived as a kind of public drama. (Just FYI, Bill Clinton convened a series of "conversations on race" early in his first term.) If you have ever tried to mediate dispute resolution you would see the parallels. If anyone on one side digs their heels in or refuses to be open to resolving it, the other members of that side are more likely to take his defense than try to persuade him to go along and those members on the other side who had expressed a willingness to compromise have even stronger feelings in opposition. Which is why, when you do dispute resolution, you try to have as much time in private with just one group, to get the venting over with and the group agreement in place before you put the two groups together.

Barbara, thanks for your very conciliatory response. I feel as though I've missed a whole conversation in just a day's absence, but I'll try throw a few thoughts in.First of all, I'm glad you agree that in regards to the political press coverage, sexism does seem to be a bigger problem than racism.However, I think you're right to point out how complex these subjects are. Your observations (and links to which you give evidence of this) on the the economic impact of racial classification first and foremost sound right on the mark to me, based upon the little I've read on the subject. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that none of this is meant to suggest that one's gender doesn't also have a secondary affect, right? (i.e. a black woman having first and foremost more hardships then white men and women, but then also more difficulties then black men) Your points on the more hidden nature of racial discrimination economically and socially also make sense to me -- we really are less cognizant of the class divides that continue to permeate this country (hopefully white people will wake up soon to the serious class struggles we still have going on, for the ultra rich are increasingly creating a divide between themselves and the vast majority of whites below them as well).I do sort of have a qualm with you're concern with the Clinton supporters who you see as "lauding Clinton for her macho traits". Putting aside for now the problem of reducing "toughness" to a masculine trait (because it's another whole discussion in itself), I have to first ask, do Clinton supporters really use phrases like "testicular fortitude" and "extra cojones"? I haven't seen that myself, but if it's true, that's incredibly hypocritical and just plain weird. Now, I should say that despite my not being a huge fan of Clinton (I think they're all pretty mediocre when it comes to progressive values), I have supported her since mid-January in the primaries (my main reasons being her healthcare proposal and concern over Obama's ties to Wall Street / Chicago school economic thinking, as evidenced in some of his policy proposals. Other than that they're not that different and both are hands down better than McCain). As a consequence of my support for her, I've spent a fair amount of time reading comments from her other supporters on websites such as Talk Left, The Left Coaster, and Taylor Marsh (and for the record, I try to keep up with more pro-Obama sites such as Daily Kos and TPM too). A couple of observations: I have hardly seen anyone praising her for voting for the AUMF (though they will frequently criticize Obama and Obama supporters for using that her vote against her, but primarily because they think Obama hasn't been consistent himself in being against the war). As for the threatening of nuclear response to Iran, while many Clinton supporters have agreed with her "umbrella of deterrence" foreign policy proposal, as best as I can recall, the tendency was to talk of its value as smart foreign policy and not as an exhibit of "toughness". Lastly, on this issue, while I agree with your concern that Clinton might take this "toughness" presentation too far (though this isn't necessarily the case -- I'm against all nuclear weapons, but I still feel like I can't deny that deterrence does not necessarily imply one really plans to use those weapons), at the same time, I wouldn't reduce this to a question of gender. I think she's making a political move here too, because many voters have a perception of Democrats as being weaker candidates. She's also probably trying to evoke some controversy on another issue, hoping to get a response from Obama, because the MSM pretty much stopped covering the issues a couple of months ago. By the way, has Obama addressed what she said yet? (this is a sincere question because I haven't come across anything on his position yet)One last thing, I looked at that Stephen Ducat article and found it to be spot on in describing America's obsession with power in relation to its perception of gender, as well as the various "gender" roles Hillary has taken on in her career. However, I think the way in which he uses this to contrast Obama to Clinton is a bit wanting in argumentation. After making pretty sweeping statements about the way Hillary has acted in her political career, he than makes the most sweeping without-evidence statement of all in the last paragraph: "Barack Obama stands in stark contrast to the attitude of the Clinton campaign. His guiding political ethos has always been one of bridging but not overlooking divisions, while privileging dialogue, debate, and negotiation over conquest." This is actually the other thing that bothers me so much about Obama, that so many of his supporters (even the thoughtful ones) continue to believe he is clearly "different". I sometimes wonder what these people are relying upon when they look to what Obama has accomplished in the past -- just his self-authored books? Just looking at his campaign alone, Obama has done just as much dirty campaigning against Hillary, especially in 2007 when he was losing (smart politics says you play it cool and take the high road if you're in the lead) -- he's just had the advantage of having the MSM largely on his side throughout it all. This too is another whole discussion in itself, so I'll wait to go there only if other people really want to.And I apologize for some of these sentences being rushed and somewhat run-on at times. Plus, I apologize for any misunderstandings. One thing in particular, if I'd known the blog had written about sexism in the past, I wouldn't even have mentioned that topic on this post (though I think the discussion that's come from it has still been worthwhile). Also, forgive me for any limited understandings of these topics that I might be expressing -- I'm certainly no expert in any of these areas of study.

Perhaps relevant to this discussion of "power" and "toughness" is an article I just came across this morning:"Clinton was brain behind the war room"http://hill6.thehill.com/leading-the-news/clinton-was-brain-behind-the-w... this an example of good or bad "toughness"?

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.